As London 2012 rolls ever closer, one theme which will become more prominent is the abstract internationalism of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Charter promises “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

I am grateful to Gareth Edwards of the Inside Left blog for pointing me towards John Hoberman’s Towards a Theory of Olympic Internationalism, which sets out a compelling theory of where this internationalism comes from, and how we get from the waffling idealism of Baron Coubertin to the fascism of the 1936 Olympic games and of the postwar Olympic administrators (including, but not only, Samaranch).

Hoberman points out that the early twentieth century saw a number of movements that promoted a message of international fraternity and that their politics ranged from conservative nationalism (eg the Scouts) to socialist internationalism (eg the second interntaional) with all sorts of intermediate positions (eg Esperanto).

The 1936 Olympics stands as a first moment of crescendo in this story; with a group of French nationalists (including Coubertin himself) using the event to promote a reconciliation of France and Germany on the basis of the latter’s politics. In the aftermath of the Games, Hitler paid Coubertin a grant of 10,000 Reichsmarks and put the Olympic founder forward for the Nobel Peace Prize.

There are lots of other treasures in the piece, including an account of the pedigree of the fabulously corrupt Kim Un Yong, about whom I’ve written before, who turns out to have been a Moonie with an interesting backstory in Korean “anti-Communist” circles. But I can’t do better than encourage any readers of this blog to read Hoberman’s piece themselves.


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